KENTUCKY DERBY PREDICTIONS
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It wasn�t the late afternoon post position draw itself, but the random pill pull mid-morning on Wednesday that clarified much about this year�s Derby field. The contenders who suffered most from the draw were undoubtedly Cowboy Cal, Recapturetheglory, Gayego and Big Brown�all early speed horses that ended up in posts 17-20 respectively. With Recapturetheglory and Gayego�s stamina-challenged pedigrees, these posts look to be the proverbial �kiss of death.� And what is Dick Dutrow smoking? Deliberately picking post 20, when both the 1 and 2 slots were still open? Last time I looked, on any oval race track the inside posts cover less distance than those on the outside, and so why deliberately travel farther, especially when your early speed can carry you to the lead right out of the gate?
Which contenders most benefited from the post position draw? Selecting first, Michael Matz chose post 8 for Visionaire, the same slot from which Barbaro ran to victory in 2006. Colonel John also gets the perfect mid-field post (10), and will get to load last (along with Big Brown). With the second choice, Barclay Tagg put Big Truck in post 7, just inside Visionaire. In selecting sixth, Larry Jones ensured his filly Eight Belles gets a prime post (5), and running in blinkers for the first time, COurt Vision will break directly inside her from post 4; to her outside will be Z Fortune in post 6. Pyro also got a nice slot, in post 9.
The only unknown factor at this point may be the weather on Saturday, which, as of this writing, calls for an 80-100% chance of a.m. thunderstorms and wind (both The Weather Channel, and National Weather Service). An off-track could benefit Visionaire, Pyro, Smooth Air, and Cool Coal Man�all of whom have already proven themselves on wet to sloppy tracks. Additionally, Tomlinson wet track numbers for Colonel John (399), Eight Belles (402), Recapturetheglory (426) and Adriano (434) indicate they could perform well�if other factors are considered. It�s those other factors that are the kickers.
So, all things considered, who�s worthy of your betting dollar? Let�s first deal with who isn�t. With total confidence, here are five to toss:
1. Anak Nakal�Yes, he won over the Churchill surface last November, but his three races this year have been abysmal. The added blinkers didn�t help in the Wood Memorial, so taking them off here won�t �wake� this Rip Van Winkle.
2. Z Humor�His winning Delta Downs Jackpot form wasn�t flatter by neither Turf War�s poor performances nor his own pitiful races since. While I respect Bill Mott, this horse doesn�t deserve to be in this race.
3. Cowboy Cal, and 4. MoNBA�Poor Todd Pletcher. A nice turf horse and a decent all-weather track runner are the best he could produce this year? Not even a decent filly in his barn (� la Rags to Riches) to spring a surprise? Sad�To his credit, MoNBA did win (barely) on Churchill dirt last November, but his other dirt attempt was an abysmal twelfth place finish (nearly 40 lengths back) in the Fountain of Youth. Pletcher worked both of them at Keeneland instead of Churchill so there�s no way to gauge Cowboy Cal�s ability over the Derby surface. The final straw for both are their terrible post positions�MoNBA (14) and Cowboy Cal (17).
5. Recapturetheglory�Notwithstanding his Illinois Derby victory, he has serious stamina issues (by Cherokee Run out of a Dehere mare); starting from post 18, amid the outside pack of speed horses, should use up him up early, leaving nothing for the end.
On the other hand, morning line odds make Big Brown (3-1) the favorite, followed by Colonel John (4-1) and Pyro (6-1). Of these three, Colonel John has demonstrated a great affinity for the Churchill surface, posting an impressive 5f bullet workout (:57.80) on Tuesday, and I can�t leave him off my tickets. His breeding (by Tiznow out of a Turkoman mare) is perfectly suited for 10 furlongs, and he�s never finished worse than second running against tough fields in California. Eoin Harty knows what he�s doing and what he�s got. If there�s an off-track, I�ll consider Pyro. Otherwise, his Blue Grass performance and subsequent workout simply aren�t enough for me to think him worthy of victory�he just doesn�t appear to be sitting on a big effort. Big Brown�s far outside post is a huge concern, as is the very quick 3f work (35.40) on Thursday�just two days before the Derby. Watching that workout, he fought his rider quite a bit, and looked quite keen to go on. Still, he�s lightly-race (only 3 times), he�s got bad feet (quarter cracks), and the DRF notes in Thursday�s edition that he will be wearing front leg wraps on Saturday. For value, I�m looking elsewhere.
So, who could break out and win, particularly at long odds?
1. COurt Vision (20-1)�Blinkers on for the first-time, Mott seems to have this one primed. He�s posted two extremely sharp workouts at Churchill, including a 4f bullet (:46.20) on April 17, and his post position (4) will save ground for his late run. He won the G3 Iroquois at Churchill last year. Top jock Garrett Gomez reported turned down a ride on Pyro, to stay aboard this son of Gulch. Just a very strong gut feeling about this one.
2. Eight Belles (20-1)�Saying this filly doesn�t belong here is pure ignorance. In every conceivable way, she more than stacks up favorably against this field. She�s physically big (16.2 hands); well-bred (granddaughter of Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, by his son Unbridled�s Song, and a great-granddaughter of Kentucky Derby winner Northern Dancer, out of a Dixieland Band mare); well-raced (with 9 lifetime races, she�s run more often than every other horse in the field); and has run well in every race this year (4 wins in 4 races, all on dirt, each with a BRIS speed between 98 and 103�better than most in this field).
3. Visionaire (20-1)�He closed deceptively strong last out in the G1 Blue Grass, and his biggest race to date was his victory in the sloppy, foggy G3 Gotham so an off-track wouldn�t be bad news. Michael Matz has been relatively low-key about this son of Grand Slam, but he�s steadily improved this year�the sign of a horse mastering his craft. The biggest concern is, of course, can he outrun his pedigree.
4. Smooth Air (20-1)�I can�t help myself. This little Smooth Jazz colt and his connections appeal to me. Trainer Bennie Stutts (70 years young) has been around this sport a long time, and he trains Smooth Air in an old-fashioned way�lots of regular, long works. His fitness level is phenomenal, and probably why this colt is outrunning his breeding. Breaking from post 12 (between Z Humor and Bob Black Jack) is a bit of a concern, especially with those outside speed horses moving over after the start�he may get shuffled back a little too far in the early going. And that fever he spiked last weekend is a bit of a bother. Still, in a mediocre year with no real dominant core of favorites untainted by disappointments or questions, why not support the underdog?
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